Without Amazon HQ2, what happens to the Red Line-Blue Line connection?
Amazon isn’t building a new headquarters campus in East Boston. So is there any hope left for connecting the Red and Blue lines — an idea that was revived as part of Boston’s bid to land the big project?
The answer, as so often happens in matters of transport, is that it’s complicated. There’s little doubt the prospect of Amazon HQ2, as it’s called, helped revive the idea of extending the Blue Line to meet the Red at Charles/MGH Station. But while the state has put fresh eyes on linking the only two subway lines that do not intersect, it hasn’t committed to the project.
The story begins in October 2017, when the city of Boston pitched the former Suffolk Downs race track site to Amazon. As part of the process, officials put an optimistic spin on the transit system, suggesting that Amazon employees could easily get from Suffolk Downs to the company’s existing offices in Kendall Square with a mere linkup of the Blue and Red lines.
In that pitch, Boston said the state government had made the Red-Blue connector a priority, when in fact, the state had just completed a long federal process to officially terminate previous plans for the project. The Baker administration has also generally resisted proposals to add to the rail system, preferring instead to focus on improving the existing infrastructure.
Yet within three weeks of the Amazon bid, the T board of directors ordered an analysis of potential costs and construction methods of tunneling under Cambridge Street between the Charles/MGH and Bowdoin T stops. In October, officials said the analysis had found that the project could be completed for less than the T previously estimated — between $200 million and $350 million, depending on construction methods.
It’s still far from certain that the Red-Blue connector will ever be built. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Amazon’s choice of northern Virginia and New York City for a split HQ2 will not affect the Red-Blue decision, though at least for now it’s still considered a distant possibility.
In a draft of the T’s long-term plan, the project was listed as a “big idea” that could be tackled after 2040, although T chairman Joseph Aiello has urged agency officials to consider it a higher-priority project. Its future may become more clear in the final draft of the long-term plan, which is expected to be completed later this year.
Even so, its prospects seem much better today than two years ago, said James Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary who now advocates for the rail connection. And it’s still necessary, he argued; while Amazon won’t be calling Suffolk Downs home, the East Boston site is still slated for major redevelopment soon.
“I think it had a significant effect,” Aloisi said. “The mayor personally revitalized the importance of the Red and Blue connection.”